ASPEN HILL – Area residents, elected officials and past and present library staff met Saturday, Oct. 7 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Aspen Hill Library’s opening, while some of the branch’s advocates said they’re concerned about problems with building.
Elliot Chabot, chairperson of the Aspen Hill Library Advisory Committee, welcomed guests to the celebration at Aspen Hill Library and recalled working there as a teenager; he served as a page shelving books from 1971 to 1973.
Betty Bell, who first moved to Aspen Hill in 1965, has been a patron of the library throughout its existence.
“In those days, I am sure, there were more cows than people between here and Olney,” Bell said. “Two years later we had our library and it has been a great resource for all these 50 years. The library has met our needs from when we taught our kids to use the card catalog to now when our adult kids and the library staff are trying to teach me to use the electronic things that now fill our world. Aspen Hill Library has ceased to be a building filled with books and media and has become a place where we can work alongside and get to know the members of our very diverse community.”
She is the assistant treasurer of the Aspen Hill Library branch of Friends of the Library.
“Coming to the library to check out books was always my special time with my dad,” said Sandy Bell Richards, Bell’s daughter.
County Council member Sidney A. Katz (D-3) praised the Friends of the Library for advocating for the needs of libraries even during financial recession. “You’re friends of the library, but you’re also friends of Montgomery County,” Katz said. “You have kept our feet to the fire to realize that even during the worst of times, we need to do the right thing. There are certain things we can’t afford not to do, and libraries are one of those things.”
Council members Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and Nancy Navarro (D-4) also spoke at the event. Navarro recalled being awed by American public libraries when she came to the country at age 10 and said they were a valuable resource for her in learning to speak and write in the English language.
Delegate Bonnie Cullison (D-19) represented both the House of Delegates and the State Senate commemorating the library’s 50th Anniversary.
Chabot and his wife Chris Swan, who serves as president of the Aspen Hill chapter of the Friends of the Library, have long argued that the County Council has not invested the necessary funding to help the library meet the needs of its community, which has expanded greatly since the building first opened to the public 50 years ago. Chabot noted that the population of Aspen Hill in the year 2000 was 60,000, twice what it had been projected to be when the branch first opened.
In November of last year, the Aspen Hill Library was closed to the public for a “refresh” project which lasted until July 15, when the branch was reopened. The purpose of the County-funded project was to modernize the building’s facilities by, among other things, removing asbestos and rebuilding the bathrooms. Chabot and Swan said they and their organizations’ members agreed that while the refresh did address some of the library’s needs, they are concerned that it may have inadvertently created other problems. Three days after the library reopened, water flooded the downstairs community room, where the Aspen Hill branch of Friends of the Library hosted Saturday’s event.
Department of General Services Director David Dise said in July, General Services staff cleared water out of the community room and made “minor repairs” after the flooding. He attributed the flooding to major storms in the area which he said temporarily backed up the storm sewer.
In a “punch list” of concerns which the Aspen Hill Friends of the Library members prepared for the Montgomery County Public Library leadership shortly afterward, Chabot and Swan said, “[P]rior to the refresh of the library, we had not had a problem with flooding in many years. It is our belief that this flooding more than likely was caused by one of two refresh changes. Several years ago, the County Department of Environmental Protection regraded the Library’s parking lot, such that stormwater went into the drain in the parking lot. The new ADA parking lot regrade may have impacted the direction of the stormwater causing it to flow into the Library. Alternatively, the new book drop and regrading of the landscape outside the corner of the Library also may have impacted stormwater flowing into the Library.”
The Friends of the Library members also said in the punch list that Friday Conversation Group leadership requested a clock be returned to the community room because participants depended on it to know when to leave in time to board public transportation.
“There wasn’t a clock in the community room,” Swan said Saturday in an interview. “We complained and complained until we finally got one, which [Agency Manager] Ken Lewis had to install himself. We just discovered that the floor in that room is uneven, we don’t have the television or vending machine that we were supposed to get, and the transportation monitor upstairs, which lets patrons know when the next bus is coming, isn’t working, though that’s a Department of Transportation issue.”
Swan and Chabot have said that the library should be rebuilt as a larger building, as the Wheaton Library was. Swan said she would like to see an expanded children’s wing at the library, which she said could be named after Doris Tarpley, a retired Aspen Hill children’s librarian who still lives in the area.